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Senator Blasts Film, TV Ratings

September 29, 2004|Jube Shiver Jr. | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Reacting to growing public concerns about sex and violence in the media, Capitol Hill lawmakers turned up the pressure Tuesday on the entertainment industry to provide clearer information about the content of films and TV shows.

At the same time, legislators signaled that stronger punishments are ahead for broadcasters airing shows with objectionable content.

During a Senate Science, Technology and Space subcommittee hearing, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) blasted the movie and broadcast industries' separate rating systems. Brownback said they failed to help parents shield children from inappropriate content.

"Many [parents] find the current rating system overwhelming and confusing," Brownback said.

The hearing marked the first Capitol Hill appearance by Hollywood's new top lobbyist, Dan Glickman, who joined predecessor Jack Valenti in defending the film rating system that Valenti fathered more than 30 years ago. The two maintained that surveys showed the vast majority of parents found the ratings information "very useful."

"We take pride in the ratings system that Jack designed," said Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America. The fact that so many parents still have confidence in it, Glickman said, "is why the system has been so good for so long."

Public concern over indecency in the media reached a new high in February when singer Janet Jackson bared her right breast during the CBS-aired Super Bowl halftime. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcast networks, this month imposed a record $550,000 fine on CBS-owned stations.

Brownback reiterated at the hearing that House and Senate lawmakers had agreed to boost fines on broadcasters that air indecent material. He said legislators were aiming to include the measure as an amendment to a defense bill.

Brownback said the proposal was similar to a measure the Senate passed in June that would fine a broadcaster as much as $275,000 for the first incident in which TV and radio broadcasters violated decency rules, and up to $3 million a day.

The clash over film and TV ratings came just hours after the House, in a separate action, passed a measure that would offer some copyright protection for new software that helps parents prevent children from watching movie scenes depicting sex, violence or foul language.

Hollywood had strongly objected to the movie-filtering technology produced and marketed by several companies, including Salt Lake City-based ClearPlay. That company offers a DVD player that lets viewers skip or mute scenes in movies flagged by company employees as containing violence, sex and nudity, offensive language or other potentially objectionable content.

The Senate has not taken up a similar version of the bill, called the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act.

Concerns over sex and violence in the media was underscored yet again this week when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill to study the effect of electronic media on children.

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